So for the first time in decades a new album by Joe Jackson comes with expectations. Were they met?
My first impression was direct. This is a far lighter album than its predecessor. Joe Jackson shows a little of his poppier side. The more Fool showed of itself the more that impression disappeared. Now Joe Jackson is not one inclined to write true pop. For that he seems to lack a light and exuberant side. There is always something serious lurking in the background, at a minimum. Even an 80s hit song from the 80s like 'Happy Ending' does not give the impression or even the illusion there will be one.
Digging deeper into Fool, the intricate arrangements come forward, slowly but surely. The slow lingering beauty lying within the songs unfold note by note. It is not hard to become impressed with many of the eight songs on the album. They put me in this mood where I comfort myself, dancing with myself in my mind. Especially 'Alchemy' takes me there. The soft playing, there's even a guitar solo in there, "beautiful dancers fly into the air", simply envelopes me totally. The slow notes on the piano, the short bursts of the string section. This is a special song (despite the fact that I thought Jackson was singing about a balcony...). It ends Fool in such a beautiful way. A dream of a song. When its over it is still there, within me lingering on softly.
The contrast with the beginning of the album is huge. 'Big Black Cloud' sounds as menacing as it is titled. Dark guitars, mean howls. Joe Jackson's voice is as firm as it was 41 years ago. No longer mad at the world, just at the weather(man). The song is a statement and one that works. 'Big Black Cloud' has an urgency that simply works. The music as dark as the title. It is the right song to open Fool with. Something is going on, tempting the listener to continue. The interlude is so strong the piano, the smashing drums, the menacing guitar. Oh, yeah.
|Press picture: John Huba|
With 'Dave' the album dives in deeper and more or less sets the standard for Fool. Joe Jackson continues here at his best, blending his form of pop(balladry) with a layer of melancholy, storytelling, and high end musicianship. Just listen to the delicateness with which 'Strange Land' plays itself out. The fine, few notes of his piano tell all, while the other instruments move around him. Almost as if they aren't there, but would be sorely missed if the wouldn't.
With 'Friend Better' Joe Jackson does a 50% tribute. This is a classic Steely Dan song in the verses. The way the piano is played, the melody, the guitar sound, the whole feel. In the chorus Joe Jackson makes his his own song any way, with a wry advice from a wise man: "lover good, friend better".
By then it is clear that Joe Jackson is looking back on 40 years in the business but getting his inspiration from the album for which he is most loved by his fans. By doing this he has come up with his second fantastic album in the 10s. The impact will never be what he had in the early to mid 80s, but such is the way of older artists. However, when an artist at 64 can come up a fine album like Fool, and yes, I like the folky-Caribbean title song also, he has every right to feel proud.
The shows are all sold out I found. What to do?
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